Oakland (2-1) at Seattle (2-1)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Seattle, WA
Temp: 87° F
  • Game info: 10:05 pm EDT Thu Apr 6, 2006
  • TV: FSBA, FSNW
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Frank Thomas is getting a chance to rejuvenate his career with the Oakland Athletics. So is a former teammate.

Esteban Loaiza, the elder statesman of a young Oakland rotation, makes his return to the American League in the opener of a four-game series with the Seattle Mariners.

Thomas became a superstar with the Chicago White Sox before injuries and problems with team management threw his career off-track. He appeared in just 34 games last season and 74 a year earlier.

Oakland (2-1) took a chance on the 37-year-old slugger by signing him during the offseason, and he’s already made a big contribution.

Thomas homered in the season opener, and had a three-run double during a five-run eighth inning on Wednesday to help the A’s beat the New York Yankees 9-4.

Fellow offseason acquisition Milton Bradley had three RBIs and scored the go-ahead run on an error in the eighth.

“I think this year our offense is even better with Milton and Frank,” right-hander Dan Haren said. “I mean, look at the hits those guys got tonight. They already have a few big hits for us. That’s exciting to see them in the lineup.”

The last full season Thomas played was in 2003, when he had 42 homers and 105 RBIs. In that same season, Loaiza had a career year with the White Sox, going 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA and 207 strikeouts.

Loaiza was dealt to the New York Yankees the following year and had an unsuccessful stay there, eventually signing with Washington before last season. He went 12-10 with a 3.77 ERA.

It was enough for Oakland to sign him to a three-year deal worth $21.4 million, making the 34-year-old Loaiza the oldest pitcher on the staff and the only starter in his 30s.

The two-time All-Star had a 12.91 ERA during spring training but pitched six strong innings against San Francisco on Saturday in his final exhibition start.

“If I throw strikes and let our hitters do their thing, then we can win,” Loaiza said. “We’ve already played a couple of days, so it’s not a major thing anymore. Still, it’s nice to get the first one out of the way, hopefully with a win.”

A big key for Loaiza on Thursday may be getting through the top of the Mariners’ lineup. Their top three batters—Ichiro Suzuki, Jose Lopez and Raul Ibanez—are a combined 17-for-41 (.415) against the right-hander.

All three are off to good starts. Ichiro has at least one hit in all three games and has scored four runs, Lopez is 6-for-13 with four RBIs and Ibanez is 4-for-10 with three walks.

The 22-year-old Lopez, in his first year as the full-time starter at second base, hit a combined .239 during his first two big-league seasons. He went 3-for-5 on Wednesday as Seattle beat the Los Angeles Angels 6-4.

“I feel comfortable at the plate,” Lopez said. “I’ve been working hard on it early every day, and you see a lot of fastballs when Ichiro is on base. You have to be ready.”

The Mariners also have received solid production from rookie catcher Kenji Johjima, who singled and scored a run Wednesday after homering in each of the first two games.

Johjima’s batterymate on Thursday will be Gil Meche, who went 10-8 with a 5.09 ERA last season. The right-hander did not win any of his final seven starts and was mostly used out of the bullpen late in the season, following a four-week stint on the disabled list due to knee tendinitis.

Meche lost his only start against the A’s last season, falling to 1-5 lifetime against them with a 4.23 ERA in 11 outings.

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Starting Pitchers

E. Loaiza CWS vs. G. Meche KC
11-9 Record 11-8
4.89 ERA 4.48
97 K 156
40 BB 84
1.42 WHIP 1.43